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THE BATTLE OF GREAT BETHEL CHURCH 
BAILEY 









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THE BATTLE OP GREAT BETHEL CHURCH 
By W.H.Bailey, Sr. 



Blue & Gray 
March, 1895 



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?Hmbersittp of Jgortf) Carolina 




Collection of J^ortf) Caroltmana 

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of the Class of 1889 



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THE BATTLE OF GREAT BETHEL CHURCH-I. 



W. H. Bailey, Se., LL.D. 



BEFOBE proceeding with a sketch of this 
important — in more sense than one — 
battle, I wish to correct one or two 
errors which occur in an article by 
Colonel H. C. Graham, in your November issue, 
on " How North Carolina Went into the War." 
I was, when the war began, thirty years of age, 
a lawyer by profession, and then engaged in 
teaching a law school in conjunction with my 
father, at the foot of the Black Mountain, North 
Carolina. I was a secessionist, but not of the 
ultra school of Calhoun and Davis. I believed 
that a State had a right to secede, but only for 
such causes as would have justified a revolu- 
tion in a consolidated government. This was 
the moral right, but whenever the people in 
convention, legally assembled, should have de- 
clared that there existed that just cause, con- 
trary individual opinion must yield, and alle- 
giance thereupon became only due to the seceding 
State. Colonel Graham states correctly that 
the proposition to call a convention merely to 
consider secession was voted down, but he leaves 
the impression that this action was taken before 
the secession of South Carolina.* The truth of 
history demands that so important a result 
should not be left in doubt. The fact is, that a 
plebiscite of the kind stated by him was submit- 
ted to the voters not before, but after the seces- 
sion of South Carolina, to wit, in February, 
1861. 

I addressed several assemblages of the people, 
advocating the holding of that kind of con- 
vention, but the scheme was voted down by 
several hundred majority. Later on the legisla- 
ture called a convention peremptorily, and the 
ordinance of secession was passed on the 20th 
of May, 1861. Before, however, this ordinance 
was enacted, Governor Ellis had called for vol- 
unteers, and the 1st North Carolina Begiment 
was formed early in May, 1861. It was com- 
posed originally, at Raleigh, North Carolina, of 
ten companies : 

Company A — Edgecombe Guards, Captain Bridgers. 
Company B — Hornet's Nest Riflemen, Captain Williams. 
Company C — Charlotte Grays, Captain Ross. 
Company D — Orange Guards, Captain Ashe. 
Company E — Buncombe Riflemen, Captain McDowell. 
Company F — Lafayptte Light Infantry, Captain Starr. 
Company G — Burke Rifles, Captain Avery. 
Company H — Independent Light Infantry, Capt. Huske. 



Company I — Enfield Rifles, Captain Parker. 
Company K — Lincoln Stars, Captain Hoke. 

Colonel Graham has stated the names of the 
field officers correctly. I name the companies 
from recollection, and may not be perfectly ac- 
curate. It may not be uninteresting to note the 
fate of these captains. Bridgers became a colo- 
nel, and is dead ; Williams is alive ; Boss (cap- 
tain of what were called the Spring Chickens, 
and himself one) was killed in battle; Ashe 
lives in California ; McDowell became a colonel ; 
Starr became a colonel ; Avery became a colonel, 
and was killed in battle ; Huske is dead ; Parker 
became a colonel, and was killed in battle ; 
Hoke became a colonel, and was killed in 
battle. Many of the lieutenants and non-com- 
missioned officers rose to high rank during the 
progress of the war. Lieutenant Lewis, of 
Company A, became a general ; Saunders and 
Mallett, of Company D, became colonels ; Lieu- 
tenant Gregory, of Company E, became a major ; 
Lieutenant B. F. Hoke, of Company K, became, 
I believe, a lieutenant-general. In Company E, 
Sergeants Young and Patton became majors, 
and Private Fleming a colonel. Colonel Gra- 
ham is entirely mistaken in stating that there 
was a Warren company in the regiment — the 
more our loss, as Warren contains the crime de 
la crime of North Carolina aristocracy. The 
companies came from the counties of Edge- 
combe, Mecklenburg, Orange, Buncombe, Cum- 
berland, Burke, Halifax,- and Lincoln. Either 
before we started or after reaching Yorktown 
two other companies were added — one from 
Halifax and the other from Perquimans. 

At Yorktown General J. B. Magruder com- 
manded, as he did at the battle of Great Bethel 
Church. In, as I recall the 9th of June, 1861, 
our regiment, a company of artillery, called the 
Bichmond Howitzers, and a Virginia company 
of cavalry were marched to Great Bethel 
Church. There were two Bethel churches, not 
far apart — Great Bethel and Little Bethel. On 
arriving we were set to work throwing up 
breastworks. 

The church was a wooden structure situated 
in a grove of large holly and hickory trees on a 
very slight acclivity. Here is a rough diagram 
presenting a view of the situation as seen on the 
10th of June, 1861 : 



153 



154 



"BLUE <AND GRAY. 



I I I I I E 

Fx 



Fz 




A — The church. D — The howitzers. 

B — The blacksmith shop. E — Our regiment. 

C — The cavalry. F — Breastworks. 

G — The direction of the attack. 

The breastworks F2 and F3 were little, if any, 
higher than a man's knee. F4 jvas to the 
breast, and Fl — the point of attack — about a 
yard high. The battle commenced at nine 
o'clock a. m. on a bright morning — June 10th. 
General Hill stated in his report that it lasted 
five and a half hours. My impression is that it 
ended about noon. I apprehend that our force, 
all told, did not exceed thh-teen, possibly four- 
teen hundred. General — then Colonel — Hill, in 
his report (Rise and Fall of the Confederate 
Government, Volume I, page 342) says that 
' ' this [our] small force was engaged for five and 
a half hours with four and a half regiments of 
the enemy. * * The enemy made three dis- 
tinct and well-sustained charges, but were re- 
pulsed with heavy loss." These charges were 
made on breastwork Fl. Captain Winthrop, a 
gallant officer, led the charges. The Federal 
troops sprang on to the breastworks, received a 
shower of shot-musketry, twice fell back. At 
the third charge Winthrop sprang on the breasts 
work, waved his sword, exclaiming: "Rally, 
boys, rally ! one more rally and the day is 
ours!" The brave words had scarcely been ut- 



tered when poor Winthrop fell, mortally 
wounded. This caused first, confusion, then a 
panic, and finally a complete rout for miles. 

Whilst this was going on, the howitzers — as 
brave a body of men as ever . wore a uniform — 
were handling their guns, poor howitzers, with 
the utmost coolness and skill. It looked more 
as if they were practising before their sweet- 
hearts. A blacksmith shop (B) was directly 
within the range of their guns, and General 
Magruder stated that he would not order any 
one to go outside to fire the shop, as the chances 
were all against succeeding, yet if any one de- 
sired to volunteer to do so he would accept hiB 
services. Several privates sprang from the 
ranks to offer themselves, but Wyatt got in ad- 
vance and was chosen. We know his sad fate 
— riddled with bullets even before he reached 
the shop. 

We all had an (to me at least) unexpectedly 
good lunch that day from the canteens and 
haversacks dashed down by the rapidly flying 
Federals. Wyatt was our only loss. The Fed- 
erals lost between five hundred and a thousand 
men. It was said that Winthrop was killed by 
the negro cook attached to the Orange Guard. 

Yet, a battle so fought and won against such 
odds is termed by Butler, in his " Book," " an 
affair ' ' ! and Davis only devotes a page to it. 

The moral effect of the battle was electrical. 
It stimulated the weak-kneed, encouraged the 
pessimists, and doubtless operated as an un- 
seen but no less powerful factor in the battle of 
Bull Run, which happened forty days afterward. 
The logic of it was that one Southerner was 
equal to four Federals, but the proportion ran 
much higher in the average Southern mind. 
Philosophically viewed, it turned out to be a 
misleading star of destiny, as it remotely but 
certainly became the cause of a fearful destruc- 
tion of human life, commencing with Bull Run 
and lasting through nearly four sad years. As 
a just tribute to our regiment, the legislature 
gave us the nam deplume of the "Bethel Regi- 
ment." 



II.— EXTRACTS FROM GENERAL D. H. HILL'S OFFICIAL REPORT 

OF THE BATTLE. 



Sir : — I have the honor to report that, in 
obedience to orders from the colonel command- 
ing, I marched, on the 6th instant, with my 
regiment and four pieces of Major Randolph's 
battery, from York town, on the Hampton Road, 
to Bethel Church, nine miles from Hampton. 



We reached there after dark on a wet night, 
and slept without tents. Early on the morning 
of the 7th, I made a reconnoissance of the 
ground preparatory to fortifying. I found a 
branch of Back River in our front and encircling 
our right flank. On our left was a dense and 



* From Charleston Daily Courier of June 26, 1861. Addressed to Governor J. W. Ellis. 



■THE BATTLE OF GREAT 'BETHEL CHURCH. 



155 



almost impassable wood, except about one hun- 
dred and fifty yards of old field. The breadth 
of the road, a thick wood, and a narrow culti- 
vated field covered our rear. The nature of 
ground determined me to make an enclosed 
work, and I had the invaluable aid of Lieuten- 
ant-Colonel Lee, of my regiment, in its plan and 
construction. Our position had the inherent 
defect of being commanded by an immense field 
immediately in front of it, upon which the 
masses of the enemy might be readily deployed. 
Presuming an attempt would be made to carry 
the bridge across the stream, a battery was 
made for its especial protection, and Major 
Eandolph placed his guns so as to sweep all the 
approaches to it. The occupation of two com- 
manding eminences beyond the creek and on 
our right would have greatly strengthened our 
position, but our force was too weak to admit 
of the occupation of more than one of them. A 
battery was laid out on it for one of Randolph's 
howitzers. 

We had only twenty-five spades, six axes, 
and three picks, but these were busily plied all 
day and night of the 7th, and all day on the 
8th. * * * 

On Sunday, the 9th, a fresh supply of tools 
enabled us to put more men to work, and when 
not engaged in religious duties the men worked 
vigorously on the intrenchments. We were 
aroused at three o'clock on Monday morning for 
a general advance upon the enemy, and marched 
three and a half miles, when we learned that 
the foe, in large force, was within a few hun- 
dred yards of us. We fell back hastily upon 
our intrenchments. Lieutenant-Colonel Stew- 
art, of the 3d Virginia Regiment, having 
joined us with some one hundred and eighty 
men, was stationed on the hill on the extreme 
right beyond the creek, and Company G of my 
regiment was also thrown over the stream to 
protect the howitzer under Captain Brown. 
Captain Bridgers, of Company A, 1st North 
Carolina Regiment, took post in the dense wood 
beyond and to the left of the bridge. Major 
Montague, with three companies of his battal- 
ion, was ordered up from the rear and took 
post on our right, beginning at the church and 
extending along the entire front on that side. 
This fine body of men and the gallant command 
of Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart worked with 
great rapidity, and in an hour had constructed 
temporary shelters against the enemy's fire. 
Just at nine o'clock a. m. the heavy columns of 
the enemy were seen approaching rapidly and in 



good order, but when Randolph opened upon 
them at a quarter past nine their organization 
was completely broken up. The enemy replied 
promptly with his artillery, firing briskly and 
wildly, and made an attempt at deployment on 
our right of the road, under cover of some 
houses and a paling. 

They were, however, promptly driven back 
by our artillery, a Virginia company (the Life 
Guard) , and Companies B, C, and G of my regi- 
ment. The enemy made no deployment within 
musketry range during the day, except under 
cover of woods, fences, or paling. Under cover 
of the trees he moved a strong column to 
an old ford about three-quarters of a mile below 
where I had placed a picket of some forty men. 
Colonel Magruder sent Captain Worth's com- 
pany, of Montague's command, with one how- 
itzer under Sergeant Crane, to drive back this 
column, which was done by a single shot from 
the howitzer Before this, a priming wire had 
been broken in the vent of the howitzer com- 
manded by Captain Brown and rendered it use- 
less. A force, estimated at fifteen hundred, 
was now attempting to outflank us and get in 
the rear of Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart's small 
command. He was accordingly directed to fall 
back, and the whole of our advance troops were 
withdrawn. At this critical moment I directed 
Lieutenant-Colonel Lee to call Captain Bridgers 
out of the swamp and order him to occupy the 
nearest advanced work, and I ordered Captain 
Ross's Company C, 1st Regiment, North Carolina 
Volunteers, to the support of Lieutenant-Colo- 
nel Stewart. These two captains, with their 
companies, crossed over to Randolph's battery 
under a most heavy fire, in the most gallant 
manner. 

As Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart had with- 
drawn, Captain Ross was detained at the church 
near Randolph's battery. Captain Bridgers, 
however, crossed over, and drove the Zouaves 
out of the advanced howitzer battery and re- 
occupied it. It is impossible to over-estimate 
this service. It decided the action in our favor. 
In obedience to orders from Colonel Magruder, 
Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart rushed back, and in 
spite of the presence of a foe ten times his supe- 
rior in numbers, resumed in the most heroic 
manner possession of his intrenchments. A 
fresh howitzer was carried across and placed in 
the battery, and Captain Avery, of Company G, 
was directed to defend it at all hazards. We 
were now as secure as at the beginning of the 
fight, and as yet had no man killed. The ene- 



156 



"BLUE zAND GRAY. 



my, finding himself foiled on our right flank, 
next made his final demonstration on our left. 
A strong column, supposed to consist of volun- 
teers from different regiments, and under com- 
mand of Captain Winthrop, aid-de-camp to 
General Butler, crossed over the creek and ap- 
peared at the angle on our left. Those in ad- 
vance had put on our distinctive badge of a 
white band around the cap, and they cried out 
repeatedly, "Don't fire !" This ruse was prac- 
tised to enable the whole column to get over the 
creek and form in good order. They now began 
to cheer most lustily, thinking that our work 
was open at the gorge and that they could get 
in by a sudden rush. Companies B and C, 
however, soon dispelled the illusion by a cool, 
deliberate, and well-directed fire. Colonel Ma- 
gruder sent over portions of G-, C, and N Com- 
panies of my regiment to our support. And 
now began as cool firing on our side as was ever 
witnessed. , 

The three field officers of the regiment were 
present, and but few shots were fired without 
their permission, the men repeatedly saying, 
'• May I fire ? I think I can bring him." They 
were all in high glee and seemed to enjoy it as 
much as boys do rabbit shooting. Captain Win- 
throp, while most gallantly urging on his men, 
was shot through the heart, when all rushed 
back with the utmost precipitation. The fight 
at the angle lasted but twenty minutes ; it com- 
pletely discouraged the enemy and he made no 
further effort at assault. The house in front, 
which had served as a hiding-place for the en- 
emy, was now fired by a shell from a howitzer, 
and the out-houses and paling were soon in a 
blaze. As all shelter was now taken from him, 
the enemy called in his troops and started back 
for Hampton. As he had left sharp-shooters 
behind him in the woods on our left,, the dragoons 
could not advance until Captain Hoke, of Com- 



pany K, 1st Eegiment, North Carolina Volun- 
teers, had thoroughly explored them. When he 
gave assurance of the wood being clear, Captain 
Douthatt, with some one hundred dragoons, 
pursued. * * * 

There were not quite eight hundred of my 
regiment engaged in the fight, and not one-half 
of these drew a trigger during the fight. All 
remained manfully at the post assigned, and not 
a man in the regiment behaved badly. The 
companies not engaged were as much exposed 
and rendered equal service with those partici- 
pating in the fight. They deserve equally the 
thanks of the country. In fact, it is the most 
trying ordeal to which soldiers can be subjected 
to receive a fire which their orders forbid them 
to return. Had a single company left its 
post, our works would have been exposed, 
and the constancy and discipline of the unen- 
gaged companies cannot be too highly com- 
mended. 

A detachment of fifteen cadets from North 
Carolina Military Institute defended the howit- 
zer under Lieutenant Hudnal, and acted with 
great coolness and determination. * * * 

Permit me, in conclusion, to pay a well-de- 
served compliment to the 1st Eegiment, North 
Carolina Volunteers. Their patience under 
trial, perseverance under toil, and courage under 
fire have seldom been surpassed by veteran 
troops. After working night and day, and 
sometimes without tents and cooking utensils, a 
murmur has never escaped them to my know- 
ledge. They have done a large portion of the 
work on the intrenchments at Yorktown, as 
well as those at Bethel. Had all the regiments 
in the field worked with the same spirit there 
would not be an assailable point in Virginia. 
After the battle they shook hands affectionately 
with the spades, calling them clever fellows and 
good friends. 







UNIVERSITY OF N.C. AT CHAPEL HILL 



00032769914 

FOR USE ONLY IN 
THE NORTH CAROLINA COLLECTION 












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